There’s a lot of talk about Lyoto Machida’s move to middleweight, which begins this weekend at UFC Fight Night 30. It seems “The Dragon” has become an interesting X-Factor in the division before even debuting there.
Maybe the great showing from Hector Lombard last Saturday at UFC 166 is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Lombard followed his first round knockout of respected former title challenger Nate Marquardt by admitting the UFC was right in asking him to move down in weight.
After winning his first 16 bouts, along with the UFC Light Heavyweight title, Machida has only gone .500 in his last eight. As it turns out, Joe Rogan’s famous remark “Welcome to the Machida Era,” after his defeat of Rashad Evans, was a little premature. He has seemed undersized in many of his fights at light heavyweight, including his last bout, a controversial decision loss to Phil Davis, and last year’s title challenge against Jon Jones. Still, it’s been a good career.
Our own Alim Lila ran down some of the issues that could have pushed Machida to the decision: was it to cement a legacy by winning titles in several weight classes, as only Randy Couture and BJ Penn have done?
It’s interesting to see those three names end up bound together. Most fans will remember that Machida would end up being the man who retired Randy Couture in 2011, but older fans may recall that Penn and Machida crossed paths before as well.
Penn and Machida met in a bout in K-1 Heroes promotion in 2005, back when Machida was campaigning at open weight. A noticeably flabby Penn challenged Machida and gave him an unusually tough fight, possibly taking two of five rounds from him. Machida’s style was totally unique at the time — he had memorably knocked out Rich Franklin earlier, after luring Franklin into his counter-punching game — and Penn would later remark in his 2010 book Why I Fight that Machida’s style hadn’t changed much. “The reason (Machida) walked through the UFC and won the championship is that guys were impatient, or too scared to take him on.”
Is Penn correct? Has the competition simply “figured out” Machida’s elusive style, and that fully accounts for his recent losses? Maybe. The Davis bout certainly saw Machida forced to chase the bigger American. While fans (at least, the ones who were awake at the end of that clunker of a bout) mostly disagreed with the decision to award the bout to Davis, they’d have to agree he struggled.
For his part, Machida has been… wait for it… elusive.
Asked about his motivation, he simply says that the opportunity arose, so he’s taking it. It appears that a rematch with Jones is not forthcoming. Despite giving Jones his first challenge and winning the first round of their encounter, it seems fans and UFC brass feel his eventual submission loss was conclusive enough to not warrant a return bout.
What of his teammate, Anderson Silva, who lost the middleweight title earlier this year?
Machida says he doesn’t know.
My take: he does. I don’t think Machida would have agreed to enter the middleweight division if Silva planned to continue fighting there. This move is the first step to a last title run for “The Dragon.”
Do I know for sure? No. I get the feeling all will be revealed soon, though.
Is the move to middleweight a good move, though?
I think so. If Silva is indeed soon to be gone, and with Machida no longer at a size disadvantage in his fights, I’m looking for “The Dragon” to begin turning another corner Saturday. Bring on the next “Machida Era.”